When a loved one takes on the role of family caregiver for an elderly parent, spouse, or other relative, it can be an emotionally and physically draining experience. Caregivers often feel isolated as they struggle to balance caring for their loved one, managing a household, and working. These caregivers are often referred to as those in the “sandwich generation,” because they are juggling life as a caregiver for both their aging parents and their young children.
Many family caregivers find themselves part of what has been termed “the sandwich generation.” This refers to adults who are caring for both aging parents and young children simultaneously. As baby boomers age, the number of caregivers in the sandwich generation continues to increase dramatically.
These caregivers face unique emotional and logistical challenges juggling the needs of children and elderly parents/relatives at the same time. Children need active parenting, help with schoolwork, transportation to activities, emotional support, and more whereas elderly loved ones require doctor’s appointments, medication management, household help, hands-on care, and frequent check-ins. It can feel like being pulled in multiple directions.
Because they are so often the glue holding multiple generations together, if the sandwich generation caregiver crumbles under the pressure everything can fall apart. These caregivers often don’t take enough time for self-care leading to substantial impacts on mental and physical health over months and years. Isolation, anxiety, depression, weight gain, high blood pressure, and even stroke are common.
If you have a sandwich generation caregiver in your life, providing extra help and support is crucial. There are many ways you can provide practical and emotional support. Here are 10 ideas:
1. Offer to Help with Errands and Transportation
Caregivers have a lot on their plates and simple tasks like grocery shopping, pharmacy trips, and transportation to doctor's appointments can be a huge help. Offer to take their loved one to appointments to give the caregiver some free time. Even better - pick up the groceries or prescriptions for them.
2. Help Out Around the House
Offer to help out with household chores like cleaning, yard work, meal preparation so the caregiver has one less thing to worry about. You could even organize a rotating calendar and get friends or other family members to sign up to help.
3. Give Caregivers a Break
One of the most valuable things you can give a caregiver is time to recharge. Offer to stay with their loved one so they can go out to dinner, get a massage, or just take a nap. If you can't be there in person, consider sending money for a respite caregiver.
4. Check-In and Listen
Sometimes caregivers just need someone to talk to. Regularly check in by phone and set aside time to actively listen to what they’re going through. Simply knowing someone cares can make a big emotional difference.
5. Send Encouraging Notes or Small Gifts
Let the caregiver know you appreciate all that they do with words of encouragement or small thoughtful gifts like gift cards for coffee or self-care items. Even something as simple as a vase of fresh flowers can brighten their day.
6. Help Navigate Health Resources
The complex healthcare system can be incredibly difficult to manage - especially while also providing care. Offer to call insurance companies, research health conditions, or find resources like support groups. Your help navigating will be one less headache.
7. Share the Caregiving Load
If possible, commit to a regular schedule to assist the primary caregiver. You may offer to have their loved one over for a few hours each week or come visit them so the usual caregiver can get things done. Joining a care team spreads the workload.
8. Check in on Their Health
Caregivers often neglect their own health and wellness which can lead to illness, chronic conditions, and caregiver burnout. Check-in and suggest things like medical checkups, mental health days, regular exercise, or eating well. Lead by example with healthy self-care.
9. Offer Respite Care
One of the best gifts you can give an overwhelmed caregiver is nights or weekends off while you care for their loved one. Look into respite care organizations that provide this service or gather friends and family to put together a respite care calendar as a group effort.
10. Help Research Assistance Options
Providing assistance researching additional help, support groups, adult day programs, or even facility placements shows that you truly want to help lift their burden. Your research will uncover options they may not have had the bandwidth to find on their own.
Caring for a loved one in need is one of the most selfless acts a person can undertake. While it’s often unseen work, the support of friends and family can make a huge difference. If you have a caregiver in your life, offer your time, skills, understanding, and compassion. Small acts of kindness can provide the nurturing care they need to keep going.